Why Your Housing Authority Needs Project Charters

January 4, 2018

A public housing authority’s mission is to provide safe, decent and sanitary housing. Many believe this involves only the administration of public housing and the “Section 8” Housing Voucher Program.

But public housing authorities also must initiate long, complicated projects to improve their day-to-day operations. They can range from building a new complex to implementing a document-imaging project.

Public housing authorities can use project charters as written tools to guide projects to completion. A project charter authorizes a project and designates who’ll take the lead on it. It lets the project manager do what’s necessary to finish the project on time and within budget.

If your agency is having a tough time completing its projects, you might not have the proper structure in place. A charter is a simple tool meant to provide precisely that: structure. It can help launch a project, define the scope and ensure everyone understands what needs to be done.

First Things First: Benefits

A project charter helps a project stay on course, and keeps objectives top of mind. It lets leaders see expectations and deadlines. It also prevents creep, or the tendency to go beyond plans that can delay work and blur focus.

The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority used one to address its multifamily housing programs. It began with a large-scale capital fund project to replace defective roofs and plumbing. The charter allowed the organization to specify who was working on the project, as well as its timeline, resources and possible challenges.

The Seattle Housing Authority uses charters at both the cabinet and department level to set up and structure major workflows, including charters to create a Moves to Opportunity program and launch mobile-inspection projects.

Create a Project Charter

A charter shouldn’t be complicated. Just explain what the project is, name who’s involved and set timelines and goals.

Let’s imagine you’re trying to implement a new housing program for homeless youth. Follow these seven steps to put an effective plan in place.

1. Project Goal

Explain what it is you hope to accomplish and why. In your example, the housing authority aims to put a new program in place to provide housing for homeless youth. This goal will be laid out at the beginning of the charter.

2. Project Description

Describe in more detail what your project is meant to achieve. What will be built, provided or delivered? Let’s say the goal of your example program is to house 20 at-risk homeless youth. The program will come with housing services and a partner network to find the housing units and do necessary inspections.

3. Budget

If your agency commits to 20 vouchers, you’ll want to note the average yearly value of those vouchers. If you plan to put a lot of staff time into the project, you’ll want to allocate that staff time. (Staff time is the largest cost on most projects.) Also, consider the value of the services any partner agency will put toward the program.

4. Risks

Now, think about what could go wrong. Is your partner agency too busy? Could potential IT risks cause issues with sharing information? Are there enough eligible homeless youth to fill the program? What would happen if your project manager or leading visionary leaves the organization? Note these potential roadblocks and plan for them.

5. Timelines and Goals

Your example program might include the following steps:

  • Agree and codify general policies and procedures.
  • Determine how homeless youth will be identified, given subsidies and placed into housing.
  • Clarify the services that will be provided.
  • Figure out how a service provider will be paid and how the subsidy will get from the housing authority to the provider.

Some housing authorities write the steps down to ensure the creation of the proper forms ahead of project launch. There should be milestones, from going live with the project all the way to completion, including points to reflect on progress and make adjustments. All milestones should have associated dates of achievement.

6. Project Objectives

A project charter should make it clear when the project is over. In your program example, this might be when the first homeless youth is placed in a housing unit — or it might be when the last one is placed and the program is fully functional.

It may be difficult for housing authority staff to understand the difference between a project and continuing operations: The project involves getting the new operation up and running, and operations encompasses the handoff and continued day-to-day operation of the program.

7. Project Players

A project manager usually runs the show and has a team of subject-matter experts at hand. Often, sponsors play specific helping roles.

In your example project charter, the sponsors might be the executive directors of the housing authority and partner agency. The sponsors must provide guidance, remove barriers and should never get in the way.


An advisory firm can help your public housing authority develop its project charters. Thousands of example projects are available online to help you create a successful charter for your agency.

Just think of it as a simple plan to set up and manage projects through to success.